Saturday, May 29, 2010

Facebook Malware Attack on the Loose

Facebook Malware Attack on the Loose

A Facebook phishing attack is on the loose this Memorial Day weekend — the third widespread attack on the site in the past three weeks. The attack attempts to steal your Facebook login credentials, install malware on your computer, and even get your home address.

The attack is spread via a “hilarious video” posted to Facebook walls, reports WebSense — when clicked, a form appears requesting your Facebook login.

The attack then returns you to Facebook, installs an app called “Media Player HD”, and asks you to download the “FLV player” — doing so installs malware on your machine. It gets worse: Depending on your location, you may also be presented with a contest to win an iPad … if you just enter your home address.

To avoid getting caught, simply remove the “hilarious video” if you find it on your Facebook wall. If you see it elsewhere on Facebook, don’t click it … and of course remember the obvious rule: Don’t enter your Facebook login anywhere other than Facebook.com.

If you already fell for the attack, change your Facebook password, uninstall the Facebook app (often called “Media Player HD”), and run a virus/malware scan on your computer.

North Korea warns it will meet war with 'all-out war'

North "will react to confrontation with confrontation," news agency says
By the CNN Wire Staff
-South Korean anti-submarine exercise prompts angry response
-North Korea calls South Korean leaders a "group of traitors"
-Response comes amid high tensions, after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for sinking warship
Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea reacted to a South Korean anti-submarine exercise early Thursday by saying it would meet "confrontation with confrontation" and war with "all-out war," according to North Korean state-run media.

"Now that the puppet group challenged the DPRK [North Korea] formally and blatantly, the DPRK will react to confrontation with confrontation, and to a war with an all-out war," according the KCNA news agency.

The news agency referred to South Korean leaders as a "group of traitors" and said they would experience "unheard of disastrous consequences" if they misunderstand North Korea's will.

The response comes amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula, after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for the sinking in March of a South Korean warship. An official South Korean report has accused the communist North of firing a torpedo at the ship, killing 46 sailors.

Explainer: Why are the two Koreas so hostile?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Seoul on Wednesday, called the sinking "an unacceptable provocation by North Korea" and said the international community should respond.

Also Thursday, the general staff of North Korea's military -- the Korean People's Army, or KPA -- said it was enacting new measures to deal with any "all-out confrontation."

The steps would "retract all measures for providing military guarantees for the North-South cooperation and exchange, and the promise of a physical strike.

"The KPA will make a prompt physical strike at the intrusion into the extension of the Military Demarcation Line under our side's control in the West Sea of Korea," the army said, according to the KCNA news agency.

HR 5175 and How it Pertains to Bloggers

(Well, well, well...talk about bending a cause to fit your agenda. See, the Disclose Act is aimed at corporate sponsored entities, but if it does hit bloggers, too, then it is a net cast too wide. I am firmly opposed to the SCOTUS Citizens United decision--it furthers the wrongly designated rights of individuals granted to corporations, basically giving corporations rights which actually supersede those of the individual. But if they restrict the free speech of bloggers--even those bloggers bought and paid for by corporations to further their political agenda (something I oppose philosophically but not constitutionally), then they are violating the First Amendment for real this time. Definitely a sticky issue. Here is an article against HR 5175. I will try to find one in support of it. The Official Summary of HR 5175 can be read below the following article.--jef)


Bloggers Beware – They’re Coming After You!
by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)

Just when you thought it was safe to start expressing your right to free speech, Democrats in Congress are gearing up for a vote on a new piece of legislation to blatantly undermine the First Amendment. Known as the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175), this bill – written by the head of the Democrats’ congressional campaign committee – is their response to the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In short, the Supreme Court found that the government could not restrict the free speech rights of individuals or other entities wishing to participate in the political dialogue.

It is hard to see how establishing a level playing field for free speech – as our Founding Fathers did by making it a right under the Constitution and which the Supreme Court upheld – is a threat to our democracy. Nevertheless, the White House and their allies on Capitol Hill see honest criticism as a threat to forcing their big government, liberal agenda through Congress. So, there is no time like the present – namely five months before an election – to start putting the muzzle on those individuals and organizations not sticking to the Democrats’ talking points.

Under the DISCLOSE Act, certain incorporated entities would be restricted in how they can exercise their free speech rights. There is an exemption for some in the media sphere like newspapers, TV news, and the like. However, there is one driving force in today’s public debate that is NOT exempt. Bloggers will not have the same exemption provided to other media sources. Never mind that the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Citizens United case stated, “Differential treatment of media corporations and other corporations cannot be squared with the First Amendment.”

For many bloggers to exercise their free speech rights, they would have to jump through the same onerous new hoops as many businesses, nonprofit groups, and even such threats to democracy as your local chamber of commerce. If this sounds like an absurd overreach by one party in power, I invite you to take a look at their government takeover of health care, taxpayer-funded bailouts, and general hostility to private sector economic growth.

The Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats have not racked up a stellar record of transparency and openness. For a White House that touted its willingness to engage critics openly in hopes of staving off greater partisan rancor, Obama’s team has endorsed backroom deal-making, special giveaways to garner support for their agenda, and a closed-door decision-making process that has the American people more fed up with Washington. Now, under their brand of leadership, they stand ready to stifle free speech via legislative fiat.

Democrats should not be allowed to give themselves carte blanche to shut down the ability of those in the blogosphere or elsewhere to participate in our nation’s collective dialogue. That flies in the face of our most sacred rights as American citizens.


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Official Summary HR 5175

4/29/2010--Introduced.Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act or DISCLOSE Act - Amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) to prohibit:

(1) independent expenditures and payments for electioneering communications by government contractors if the value of the contract is at least $50,000; and
(2) recipients of assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) from making any contribution to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office, or to any person for any political purpose or use, or from making any independent expenditure or disbursing any funds for an electioneering communication. Applies the ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals to foreign-controlled domestic corporations. Treats as contributions:

(1) any payments by any person (except a candidate, a candidate's authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party) for coordinated communications; and
(2) political party communications made on behalf of candidates if made under the control or direction of a candidate or a candidate's authorized committee. Revises the definition of independent expenditure to mean, in part, an expenditure that, when taken as a whole, expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, or is the functional equivalent of express advocacy. Requires any person making independent expenditures exceeding $10,000 to file a report within 24 hours. Increases the period before a general election during which a communication shall be considered an electioneering communication. Requires corporations, labor organizations, and other covered organizations to include specified additional information in reports on independent expenditures of at least $10,000. Sets forth special rules for the use of general treasury funds by covered organizations for campaign-related activity. Authorizes covered organizations to make optional use of a separate Campaign-Related Activity Account for making disbursements for campaign-related activity. Prescribes additional information to be included in certain radio or television communications by persons (including significant funders of campaign-related communications of a covered organization) other than a candidate, a candidate's authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party. Amends the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 to require registered lobbyists to report information on independent expenditures or electioneering communications of at least $1,000 to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Requires certain covered organizations to disclose to shareholders, members, or donors information on disbursements for campaign-related activity. Authorizes judicial review of the provisions of this Act.

Texas textbook tragedy: Whitewash of American history

The school board erases the slave trade and hip-hop, elevates Sen. McCarthy
By: Devona Walker

In Texas schools, the Slave Trade is officially no more, it’s the Atlantic triangular trade. Country music is an important modern cultural movement; hip-hop isn't. Thomas Jefferson deserves to be erased from a list of "great Americans." But we apparently need additional chapters on Ronald Reagan.

On Sen. Joe McCarthy, well apparently we’ve all got it wrong. He was not a communism-obessed loon but an American hero. President Obama, though they didn’t entirely erase him out of existence, they did intentionally insert his middle name. He’s now Barack Hussein Obama. Apparently Republican former House speaker Newt Gingrich deserves studying and the National Rifle Association deserves praise for upholding the U.S. Constitution. And Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederacy, should be taught alongside Abraham Lincoln -- who effectively ended slavery.

Last Friday, the Texas State Board of Education passed their blatant, politically-based rewrite of American history. It will affect nearly five million students in Texas. But these standards will also make their way into textbooks outside of Texas.

“The Lone Star State has historically wielded potent, although waning, buying power with the nation's leading K-through-12 textbook publishers," wrote Bryan Monroe in the Huffington Post. "This year, Texas is expected to spend as much as $1 billion buying books. Book orders that large tend to influence, if not dictate, what goes onto the pages in those textbooks not just in Texas, but nationwide. It's often been cheaper for publishers to print one social studies textbook for 50 million 7th graders in several states, rather than customize 50 different textbooks for each.”

So goes the whitewash in Texas, so goes the whitewash in the U.S. It's economics of education. Texas is the biggest market for new teaching materials in the country with 4.7 million school children. It’s curriculum will therefore influence the reading materials of the rest of the naiton.

"The books that are altered to fit the [new] standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they'll end up in other classrooms," Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education and a vociferous opponent of the changes, told The Washington Post. "It's not a partisan issue; it's a good history issue."

Don’t Mess with Texas

Texas has been pulling these shenanigans for years. Since the 1970’s the evangelicals down in the Lone Star State have tried time and time again remove textbooks they perceived as being “anti-Christian” out of the rotation. They have prevented Texas children from learning about gay rights and global warming. This year, they have all but removed every reference to Latino American history in this country. And the real irony here is that the majority of the children in the Texas School system are either Black or Latino.

Eircom to cut broadband over illegal downloads

by JOHN COLLINS

EIRCOM will from today begin a process that will lead to cutting off the broadband service of customers found to be repeatedly sharing music online illegally.

Ireland is the first country in the world where a system of “graduated response” is being put in place. Under the pilot scheme, Eircom customers who illegally share copyrighted music will get three warnings before having their broadband service cut off  for a year.

The Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma), whose members include EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner, reached an out-of-court settlement with Eircom in February 2009 under which the telecoms company agreed to introduce such a system for its 750,000 broadband users.

The mechanism by which it operates was challenged in the courts by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton ruled in the High Court that a broadband subscribers internet protocol (IP) address, which Eircom will use to identify infringing customers, did not constitute personal information.

It is understood that, during the pilot phase, Eircom has agreed to process about 50 IP addresses a week. Irma is using a third-party firm, Dtecnet, to identify Eircom customers who are sharing, and not simply downloading, a specific list of its members’ copyrighted works on peer-to-peer networks. The operation of the scheme will be reviewed after three months.

Dick Doyle, director general of Irma, said his organisation could potentially supply Eircom with thousands of IP addresses a week but it was a matter of seeing what the internet service provider (ISP) was able to process.

Infringing customers will be initially telephoned by Eircom to see if they are aware of the activity on their broadband network. If the customer is identified a third time, they will have their service withdrawn for seven days. If they are caught a fourth time their broadband connection will be cut off for a year.

Mr Doyle said international research suggested 80 per cent of people will stop illegal file-sharing if they get a letter from their ISP warning them of the consequences. “We are trying to encourage people to go back to legitimate networks to get their music,” he said.

Record companies are lobbying to have a graduated-response mechanism enshrined in law in other jurisdictions.

Cable operator UPC has resisted requests from Irma to implement a “three strikes” system and the case is in the courts next month. Last night, a spokeswoman for UPC said it does not see any legal basis for monitoring or blocking its subscribers’ activities.

1. Hundreds of American POWs from Viet Nam War Still Being Held in Russia

The following 5 articles are all related to the same topic about US POWS from the Viet Nam War still being held in Russia.


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Silent Treatment
My four-decade fight to report the truth
BY SYDNEY SCHANBERG

Sydney Schanberg won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the war in Indochina. Yet his explosive 2008 essay 'McCain and the POW Cover-Up' was stonewalled by the mainstream media. Here we present Schanberg's account of his struggle to bring the story of Vietnam's forgotten veterans to the public's — and press's — attention.

From the beginning, nearly 40 years ago, the evidence was in plain sight. For reasons unexplained, however, the mainstream press did not acknowledge it and has continued to ignore it to this day.

I’m referring to the evidence that North Vietnam—after the peace treaty had been signed on Jan. 27, 1973 in Paris—held back hundreds of American prisoners, keeping them as bargaining chips to ensure getting Washington’s promised $3.25 billion in war reparations. The funds were never delivered, and the prisoners were never released. Both sides insisted to their people and the world that all POWs had been returned, challenging the voluminous body of facts to the contrary.

But behind the scenes, where the press did not go then or now, President Nixon accused Hanoi of not returning a multitude of prisoners. In a private message on Feb. 2, 1973, Nixon said U.S. records showed 317 prisoners in Laos alone. “It is inconceivable,” he wrote, “that only 10 of these men” were being returned.

Hanoi stonewalled and never added any men to its prisoner list. Yet just two months later, Nixon did an about-face and claimed proudly on national television, “all of our American POWs are on their way home.” He had to know he was telling a terrible lie.

There were occasional times when the press detoured from its pattern of disinterest. Early in 1973, for instance, the New York Times published a front-page story that described how taken aback the intelligence community was by the tiny number of prisoners being released from Laos. But neither the Times nor any other major news organization followed up with a serious investigation.

I take no pleasure in criticizing my profession. But in a sense, the press too abandoned the POWs. By its silence, the news community enabled Washington to cover up the scandal – though scandal is too mild a word for it. I believe it is a national shame.

I need to pause here to praise the one shining example in the national press. That would be Newsday, the only major newspaper that took on the POW story without blinking. During my decade there as a columnist, I started doing serious research and writing about the POW cover-up. In one 15-month period, I wrote 36 columns and a four-part, page-one series, most of them investigative pieces describing the underbelly of the cover-up. The series involved a search in Vietnam for evidence about the case of one downed pilot who never returned. Newsday is one of the handful of newspapers where investigative journalism in the modern era was born. To their great credit, Newsday and Tony Marro, its editor at the time, never hesitated to dig into the story.

People sometimes ask why I keep coming back to the POW story. I don’t have a one-sentence answer. My mentors at the New York Times taught me the importance of staying with a story. If you keep peeling back the layers, you may get to its core, which is the goal. It has worked for me. Skimming the surface of stories doesn’t get reporter or reader very far.

Some apologists in the press point out that most Americans, not just the press, ran away from the Vietnam War after it ended. Our nation had lost a foreign war for the first time in its history. Americans were divided, ashamed, angry. There were no ticker-tape parades for the returning soldiers. Many at the Pentagon and in other government circles were blaming the press for writing critically about the war. But whatever heat the press gets from critics, running away from an important story is not the answer.

Apologists also cite differing social classes. They point out that for roughly the last four decades, since the expiration of the draft, reporters have generally come from college-educated, privileged backgrounds, and the volunteer Army became an entity largely composed of young men seeking to climb out of low-income roots to a better life. So, this theory goes, reporters don’t feel much connection with the military.

That’s a foolish excuse for ignoring the world of soldiers. (Full disclosure: After college, I served two years in the Army during the Cold War, posted in Germany.) Every reporter, man or woman, should be mature enough to comprehend the responsibilities of the military and relate to its difficulties. It can’t be too hard to imagine the lives of the prisoners who were never returned to their families. The government had told these soldiers that if they were wounded or captured, it would do everything in its power to save and heal them.

Well, sometimes that isn’t the whole truth. Maybe their platoon buddies would do everything possible, but governments have multiple agendas. Nixon was desperate to get out of the Vietnam War, the albatross that had ended the political career of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. Also, the Watergate scandal was creeping up on him. Maybe Nixon thought he might be able somehow to bring those men home later by other means. Maybe. But it didn’t happen. Both governments had sworn there were no POWs left behind, and with each passing year those enormous lies became more embedded in stone. They have now held sway across eight presidencies.

A hypothetical question: what would happen if a president decided to break ranks with the POW secrecy and ordered the immediate declassification of those hidden documents that would break the story wide open? The press has never fought to unseal them, and Sen. John McCain has spent a good chunk of his legislative career doing the Pentagon’s bidding and pushing through the bills that keep those documents buried. (In all those profiles of McCain written by the national press as he campaigned twice for the presidency, I could not find a paragraph that mentioned these legislative activities.)

But back to the question of what would happen if a president suddenly brought those hidden documents into the light. My guess would be that hell could break loose. Some people might go to jail for violating the public trust and their oaths of office. There’s no statute of limitations on crimes like murder, and most of those abandoned prisoners are probably no longer alive. Those who began and continued the cover-up were surely accomplices in their deaths. At the very least, laws affecting the military would be rewritten. And the reputations of the people who played the largest roles would crumble all over the country—people such as Henry Kissinger, John McCain, John Kerry, and Dick Cheney, plus many others, including Pentagon chiefs, national security advisers, secretaries of state, intelligence chiefs, and so on. Since this is probably all a daydream, may I say that perhaps it could be a cleansing of the temple—for a while at least, human nature being what it is.

In recent years, I have offered my POW stories to a long list of editors of leading newspapers, magazines, and significant websites that do original reporting. And when they decline my offerings, I have urged them to do their own POW investigation with their own staff under their own supervision.

The list of these news organizations includes the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Salon, Slate, Talking Points Memo, ProPublica, Politico, and others. To my knowledge, none have attempted or produced a piece.

Their explanations for avoiding the story have never rung true. I have chosen not to use the names of the editors or the texts of their rejection messages, which could embarrass some of them. This is not a personal difference, but a professional one. I have decided instead to summarize their comments.

Some said they didn’t have enough staff to do the story. Others said the story was “old”—even though we have never found out what happened to the missing prisoners. I sensed often that these news people were afraid—that the story was too hot for them to handle because it could cause too many repercussions. Aren’t journalists supposed to look into difficult stories and the wrongdoings of important people? Aren’t they also supposed to expect blowback?

I asked these editors about the mountain of hard evidence attesting to the existence of abandoned men. In particular, I asked about the witness evidence, the 1,600 firsthand live sightings of American prisoners after the war. Did these journalists believe that every last one of the 1,600 witnesses was lying or mistaken? Many of these Vietnamese witnesses were interrogated by U.S. intelligence officers. Many were given lie-detector tests. They passed. The interrogators’ reports graded the bulk of the witnesses “credible.” A few of the journalists I have nudged to go after the story acknowledged that their paper or magazine or TV network had “blind spots.” But again and again, the vast majority have hemmed and hawed and said they had “doubts” about the POW information. Isn’t doing the reporting the best way to confirm or dispel doubts?

I would run through the long gamut of known intelligence—official radio intercepts of prisoners being moved to and from labor camps in Laos, satellite photos, conversations overheard by Secret Service agents inside the White House, ransom offers from Hanoi through third parties, sworn public testimony by three U.S. defense secretaries who served during the Vietnam era that “men were left behind.” The press wasn’t and isn’t interested.

And the evidence is still in plain sight

2. Why small media breaks the big stories

by Peter Richardson 

How could Sydney Schanberg’s story on Vietnam POWs appear in The Nation and then vanish in the mainstream media? A clue, I think, appears in the memoir of former Nation editor Carey McWilliams.


In 1960, McWilliams learned that La Hora, a leading Guatemalan newspaper, reported that the CIA was training guerrillas there to invade CubaThe Nation picked up the story in January 1961, the same month President Kennedy entered office. A few days later, the New York Times acknowledged the existence of the secret camp, but said its purpose was to train Guatemalan forces to repel a Cuban invasion.

That April, the Bay of Pigs fiasco confirmed The Nation’s account. Soon after the failed attempt to oust Castro, President Kennedy told a Times editor that his paper’s story was a premature disclosure of security information. When the editor reminded Kennedy that similar reports had already appeared in La Hora and The Nation, Kennedy replied, “But it was not news until it appeared in the Times.”

Kennedy’s simple statement described a complex social reality. By running a story, the Times turned mere information into news. That bit of magic has what language philosophers call a performative quality, much like a priest pronouncing a couple husband and wife. The priest isn’t reporting a marriage; he’s creating one. If a layperson utters the same words, nothing happens.

Despite profound changes in the media ecology since then, President Kennedy’s point is still valid. Information is more accessible than ever, but for any news story to reach a significant fraction of the American population, a major media outlet must disseminate it.

When it comes to generating those big stories, however, major news organizations have a mixed record. Consider two recent examples, arguably the most consequential events of the last decade: the housing bubble and the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, the big outfits had world enough and time to expose official negligence, recklessness, and mendacity. If they had, we might have avoided the staggering human costs of recession and war. Yet even when Big Media admitted their mistakes, the statements were dodgy. The clear suggestion was that everyone had missed those stories, but in both cases, experts were shouting the truth from the rooftops.

When smaller media players generate big stories, a major outlet’s decision to run them often hinges on the source’s institutional savvy and showmanship. In the 1960s, for example, Ramparts magazine broke a handful of blockbuster stories about Vietnam and the CIA. Adam Hochschild, a Ramparts staff member who later co-founded Mother Jones, described the San Francisco muckraker’s formula: “Find an exposĂ© the major newspapers are afraid to touch, publish it with a big enough splash so they can’t afford to ignore it … and then publicize it in a way that plays the press off against each other.”

If the formula is simple, its skillful execution is rare. Ramparts managed it by offering exclusives on its biggest stories to the New York Times, an arrangement that worked for both organizations. Ramparts reached audiences far beyond its own readership, and the Times beat its direct competitors to the punch.

But Ramparts’ success was short-lived. Investigative reporting is expensive, and Ramparts’ ad revenues were weak—the norm for political magazines Left or Right. After filing for bankruptcy and reorganizing in 1969, Ramparts never regained its power to rock the establishment. Facing stiff competition from other organizations, some created in its own image, Ramparts declined steadily before closing for good in 1975. Operating at a lower altitude, The Nation carried on, mixing investigative pieces with budget-friendly opinion and analysis.

Today’s business climate is much tougher for news outlets large and small. In part that’s because Americans seem to accept the idea that news organizations, whose product is a public good, should perish if they need public support to stay alive. That idea hasn’t prevailed in other industrial democracies, or even in earlier periods of U.S. history. In the 19th century, for example, the U.S. Postal Service delivered newspapers for free—the equivalent of a $30 billion subsidy in today’s dollars. (Our subsidies for public broadcasting now come to about $400 million.) The result was more voices, more diversity, and a smaller proportion of stories generated by the very institutions the media should be scrutinizing.

As for investigative journalism, the most expensive and therefore most vulnerable form of reporting, its best chance for survival is a media ecology that includes savvy fringe players and larger outlets—not necessarily newspapers—that can be played off each other. As Schanberg’s POW story demonstrates, even this arrangement isn’t foolproof. But without big players, most stories will never reach a large audience, and without small ones, too many important stories will never be told at all.

3. Sometimes conspiracy theories are true


Unlike the French or the Italians, for whom conspiracies are an integral part of government activity, acknowledged by all, Americans have been temperamentally prone to discount them. Reflecting its audience, the press follows suit. Editors and reporters like to offer themselves as hardened cynics, following the old maxim “Never believe anything till it is officially denied,” but in truth, they are touchingly credulous, ever inclined to trust the official version, at least until irrefutable evidence—say, the failure to discover a single WMD in Iraq—compels them finally to a darker view.

Once or twice a decade some official deception simply cannot be sedately circumnavigated. Even in the 1950s, when the lid of government secrecy was more firmly bolted down, the grim health consequences of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, Utah, and Nevada finally surfaced. In the late 1960s, it was the turn of the CIA, some of its activities first exposed in relatively marginal publications like The Nation and Ramparts, then finally given wider circulation.

Even then the mainstream press exhibited extreme trepidation in running any story presuming to discredit the moral credentials of the U.S. government. Take assassination as an instrument of national policy. In these post-9/11 days, when Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, publicly declares, as he did before the House Intelligence Committee, that the government has the right to kill Americans abroad, it is easy to forget that nothing used to more rapidly elicit furious denials from the CIA than allegations about its efforts, stretching back to the late 1940s, to kill inconvenient foreign leaders. Charges by the Cubans through the 1960s and early 1970s about the Agency’s serial attempts to murder Fidel Castro were routinely ignored, until finally the Senate hearings conducted in 1976 by Sen. Frank Church elicited a conclusive record of about 20 separate efforts.

Indeed, there was a brief window in the early ’70s, amid revulsion over the Vietnam War and the excitement of the Watergate hearings, when the press exhibited a certain unwonted bravado, in part because investigative committees of Congress, enlivened by Watergate, made good use of subpoena power and immunity from threats of libel. Hence the famous Lockheed bribery hearings.

Decorum soon returned, however, amid stern warnings by the late Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company. “The press these days should … be rather careful about its role,” she told the Magazine Publishers’ Association. “We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and seeing conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.” Mrs. Graham’s employees duly took heed. “Conspiracy-mongering” can be a deadly charge leveled at a reporter or an editor.

Just over 20 years later, in 1996, the Washington Post fired off a six-part series, concocted with the help of Harvard profs, decked out with doleful front-page headlines such as “In America, Loss of Confidence Seeps Into Institutions.” Cutting through the underbrush of graphs and pizza-slice charts, one found something simple: it’s as if P.T. Barnum set forth across the country to see if one was being born every minute, got to the edge of the Midwest, looked around and then muttered to himself mournfully, “No suckers!” The Post’s earnest message was that mistrust is bad and that it is better for social stability and contentment to trust government, as in the golden ’50s, which, the older crowd may recall, was a time when government told soldiers it was safe to march into atomic test sites and when government-backed doctors offered radioactive oatmeal to retarded kids without their parents’ knowledge.

The mainstream press—what’s left of it—sees an important duty to foster confidence in public institutions. On May 6, right after disclosure of Goldman Sachs’ double dealing, came the plummet and surge in the stock market that for a brief moment sliced 998 points off the Dow, prompting serious losses to small investors who had placed stop-loss orders on individual stocks. On Comedy Central, Jon Stewart showed a stream of news anchors characterizing everything from the GM bailout to the mortgage crisis to the rescue of AIG as caused by a “perfect storm.” Stewart said, “I’m beginning to think these are no perfect storms. I’m beginning to think these are regular storms and we have a shitty boat.” But the mainstream press zealously steered clear of suggestions that market manipulators might have engineered a killing.

The integration of journalists into Washington’s policy apparatus, with its luxuriant jungle of lobby shops thinly disguised as nonprofits, with their seminars, “scholars in residence,” and fellowships, has led to a decorous tendency to ignore the grime of politics at the level of corruption, blackmail, and bribery—mostly inaccessible anyway without the power of subpoena. There’s an interesting genre of books, some written by political fixers in the aftermath of exposure or incarceration—Bobby Baker’s Wheeling and Dealing is a good example—that usefully describe the grime, but these are rarely reviewed in respectable journals.

Sometimes a cover-up does surface, propelled into the light of day by a tenacious journalist. Then there’s the outraged counterattack. Are you suggesting, sir, that the CIA connived to smuggle cocaine into America’s inner cities? Gary Webb’s career at the San Jose Mercury News was efficiently destroyed. Those who took the trouble to read the subsequent full report of CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz found corroboration of Webb’s charges. But by then the caravan had moved on. A jury issued its verdict, but the press box was empty.

Maybe now the decline in power of the established corporate press, the greater availability of dissenting versions of politics and history, and the exposure of the methods used to coerce public support for the attack on Iraq have engendered a greater sense of realism on the part of Americans about what their government can do. Perhaps the press will be more receptive to discomfiting stories about what Washington is capable of in the pursuit of what it deems to be the national interest. Hopefully, in this more fertile soil, Syd Schanberg’s pertinacity will be vindicated at last, and those still active in politics who connived at this abandonment will be forced to give an account.

4. How the D.C. Media Covers for the Establishment

by John LeBoutillier 

The POW issue was born during the Watergate scandal. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger knew Hanoi was secretly keeping American prisoners, but in the spring of 1973, they were in no position to get a Democratic Congress to pay ransom to North Vietnam.

Watergate was exposed because two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, defied the unspoken agreement between media and government that remains in effect—in exchange for protecting government secrets, the press gets privileged access to official sources. That tacit pact is the single biggest reason the POW puzzle has never been solved.

My own experience provides a vivid—and exasperating—example of this incestuous relationship between the press and the powerful.

In October 1985, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak held their semi-annual Evans & Novak Political Forum in Washington, D.C. for their newsletter subscribers. Each of us—I had been a subscriber since 1974—paid $450 for a full day of talks from “D.C. political insiders.” The line-up featured Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, White House Chief of Staff Don Regan, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, and President Reagan’s national security adviser, Robert McFarlane.

After the morning introduction, I walked up to Novak and asked him, “Is what is said in here today on the record?”

He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “You paid to attend this conference, and you are not a member of the media, so those press rules do not apply to you.”

I returned to my seat at a long table where I had a cassette tape recorder clearly visible on top of the white tablecloth. When McFarlane began talking, I turned on the recorder. In the Q&A period afterward, I asked McFarlane—a retired Marine who had been on Kissinger’s staff during the Nixon administration and had been secretly dispatched to negotiate with Hanoi for the remaining 600 POWs—“Do you believe there are still U.S. POWs held against their will in Vietnam and Laos?”

McFarlane took a long time before he began his answer: “I do think there has to be—have to be—live Americans there.” He paused. The room grew silent as we watched this clearly conflicted man struggle to continue. We knew we were hearing a rare unscripted answer. He began talking about the thousands of live sighting reports coming into the Pentagon and Defense Intelligence Agency from Vietnam and Laos. Of those Southeast Asians who claimed to have seen American POWs, McFarlane said, “They have no reason to lie, and they are telling things they have seen.”

A follow-up question centered on whether the U.S. government had done everything it could to pinpoint and recover these POWs. Admitting that it had not, he said, “And that’s bad, and that’s a failure.”

I gave the tape to Wall Street Journal reporter Bill Paul, who was based in New York. He listened to it and knew he had a big story in his hands. He called National Security Council spokeswoman Karna Small, who had attended McFarlane’s talk. She denied that McFarlane ever said the words we had heard from him that very day. Paul said, “But the Journal has a transcript.” Her reply: “The transcript is wrong.”

At that point Paul knew his story was even bigger—he had McFarlane’s spokeswoman lying about her boss’s answers just hours earlier. So he called her back and said, “The transcript is not wrong. In fact, we have it all on tape.”

Bingo!

She said, “I have to get back to you.”

Minutes later the Wall Street Journal’s D.C. bureau chief, Al Hunt, called Paul and took over the editing of the story. Meanwhile, Evans and Novak tracked me down and accused me of violating protocol by exposing “off-the-record remarks by McFarlane.” They had suddenly forgotten that I specifically asked Novak whether the session was on or off the record.

In other words, the media—Al Hunt and Rowland Evans and Robert Novak—banded together to protect McFarlane and their access to him at the expense of a dynamite story. A watered-down version eventually ran and garnered some national attention, but never the continual front-page coverage it deserved.

A few months later, at a private meeting of the House Special Task Force on POWs/MIAs, I delivered a talk about a recent report of POWs being held at a specific location in Laos. Rep. John McCain was sitting in the front row of the tiered hearing room. Until that day, he and I had always had a cordial relationship. But upon seeing me, he sneered and asked if I was “secretly taping this meeting, too?”

McCain should have been incensed that the national security adviser knew that U.S. POWs were still being held and that the press was suppressing the story. Instead he was furious at me for daring to reveal McFarlane’s statements.

The Vietnam War was brought to an end in large part by a healthy, skeptical, adversarial relationship between the media and government. Reporters’ suspicions that they were being deceived by military briefers every afternoon in Saigon at the Five O’Clock Follies were the precursor to serious critical coverage of the war. Yet somehow this skeptical media has always believed the very same Pentagon when it comes to POWs.

The incident from 1985 is but one example of many. In my 30 years fighting for the truth about the POWs knowingly abandoned by the Nixon administration, I have repeatedly witnessed an eager partnership between the officials who make national policy and the media that is supposed to cover them—not to cover-up for them.

5. The Evidence Does Not Stack Up

by Gareth Porter

Sydney Schanberg has an illustrious journalistic career going back to the Vietnam War. But in peddling the story of an alleged high-level cover-up of U.S. prisoners of war said to have been left behind after the war, he has inexplicably swallowed one of history’s spectacular frauds. Schanberg’s article incorporates deceptions that have built this political myth, which has been successfully exploited by ambitious and unprincipled figures for decades.

Schanberg failed to do what any responsible journalist investigating the issue would have done, which is to do enough research to verify the outrageous claims made by those who have advocated this conspiratorial view. He substituted personal conviction for careful spade work.

The centerpiece of Schanberg’s story is the famous document from the Soviet archives, in which a senior North Vietnamese general named Tran Van Quang allegedly said in 1972 that there were 1,205 American prisoners of war, not the 591 handed over after the war. Schanberg informs readers—not once but three times—that Quang told the politburo that Hanoi “would keep many of them at war’s end as leverage to ensure getting war reparations from Washington.”

Many of the document’s figures, such as the numbers of officers of different U.S. ranks held, are so seriously inaccurate as to bring its authenticity into question. For example, it uses the term “prisoners of war” to refer to the U.S. servicemen held—a designation that the Vietnamese Communists never employed—and combines the powerful South Vietnamese corps commander Gen. Ngo Dzu and the powerless peace candidate Truong Dinh Dzu into a single composite political figure.

But it doesn’t even matter if the document is authentic or not because, contrary to Schanberg’s claims, it says nothing at all about holding POWs after the war. Instead, it simply states, accurately, the public stance of North Vietnam on the issue of returning prisoners as of September 1972, which was to refuse to agree to the release of U.S. prisoners in return for an (incomplete) U.S. military withdrawal, as was being proposed by the Nixon administration. Rather, the North insisted that the prisoners be released only after a complete settlement was reached, including both military and political elements. As “Gen. Quang” is quoted in the document as saying:
We still have among us Comrades who think: why do we keep these POWs and not take advantage of the Nixon proposals? Do we really want to resolve this matter after all? It needs to be noted that such a point of view is profoundly mistaken. This is not political horse-trading but rather an important and serious argument for successful resolution of the Vietnam problem. …We firmly hold to our position—when the American government resolves the political and military issues on all three fronts of Indochina, we will set free all American POWs.
I must assume that Schanberg never read the document that is central to his case. Otherwise, I am at a loss to understand how he could have concluded that it provides evidence of an intent to use POWs to obtain aid after the war was over.

Schanberg also claims that during the peace negotiations with Henry Kissinger, the North Vietnamese negotiators “tied the prisoner issue tightly to the issue of reparations.” But that, too, is phony history. There was no North Vietnamese linkage at any time during the talks. The North Vietnamese did try to leverage U.S. implementation of the entire agreement, including the postwar reconstruction assistance provision (Article 21). But that came in negotiations that began later in 1973, several months after the release of U.S. prisoners, and the linkage involved the North Vietnamese implementation of Article 8(b) on providing an accounting for the U.S. Missing in Action and return of remains. The Vietnamese insisted then and for many years after that on U.S. implementation of its postwar assistance obligation under the agreement as a condition for carrying out Article 8(b).

Furthermore, after the war ended and the Nixon administration reneged on the aid pledge, Hanoi gave no hint that there could be more prisoners discovered. As a consultant to the House Select Committee on Missing Persons in Southeast Asia, I accompanied the first official postwar U.S. delegation to Hanoi in January 1976. Had it intended to use POWs as leverage on postwar reconstruction aid, this was the time for Hanoi to signal to the delegation that it had found evidence of more POWs and was ready to release them once the aid issue was resolved.

Instead, as my own notes on the meeting show, Deputy Foreign Minister Phan Hien told the Committee, “We are prepared to carry out [Article 8(b)] fully if you carry out fully Article 21.”

The only thing Schanberg can cite in support of his conviction that Hanoi was hoping to get money for live POWs is Reagan administration national security adviser Richard Allen’s claim that an unidentified third country had passed on an offer of 50 POWs in return for $4 billion in 1981. No other official—intelligence, State, or Defense—has ever suggested that there was any such offer, and Allen later said it didn’t happen. We are asked to believe the absurd notion that, after nine years of silence about its secret stash of POWs, Hanoi decided that the Reagan administration was the perfect partner to do a deal on live POWs for cash.

Schanberg also butchers the history of Vietnamese prisoner release after the war with the French. He writes, “Hanoi … appears to have held back prisoners—just as it had done when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and withdrew their forces from Vietnam. In that case, France paid ransoms for prisoners and brought them home.” Schanberg apparently got that idea from MIA activist literature and never bothered to check the historical record. It is very clear: what the French paid for was the maintenance of French military cemeteries in Vietnam. When President Richard Nixon falsely claimed in July 1972 that French POWs had been held by the Vietnamese long after the Indochina War, the French government promptly issued a statement saying, “We consider the last French prisoners to have been returned by the North Vietnamese less than three months after the conclusion of the Geneva agreements in 1954.”

Schanberg didn’t even bother to look into the actual figures on the investigation of reports of live sightings of U.S. POWs after the war, on which he puts so much credence. When the first detailed examination of the reports was made public in 1983, it showed that of 526 claims by refugees to have seen U.S. prisoners in Indochina, more than half had turned out to have been sightings of Americans who had already been released, and 54 were known or suspected fabrications. Of the remaining 190, there were only 21 reports from people who claimed they saw individuals who they knew were Americans clearly being held prisoner, and for whom there was not already an accounting. Those 21 individuals had been given polygraph tests, and 19 of those tests indicated deception, while two were inconclusive.

Clinton: Rich aren't paying fair share

Alexander Mooney

Posted: May 28th, 2010 09:16 AM ET

Clinton waded into tax policy Thursday.

(CNN) – Hillary Clinton struck a strong populist chord while wading into territory secretary of states rarely go Thursday: Domestic policy.

During a conference at the Brookings Institution on national security, the nation's top diplomat bluntly aired her own views on the nation's tax policies, saying she feels "the rich are not paying their fair share."

"The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues [like the U.S.] – whether it's individual, corporate or whatever the taxation forms are," Clinton said after clearly stipulating that these were her opinions, no those of the Obama administration.

Clinton went on to cite Brazil, long known for its high taxes, as a model of a successful economic policy.

"Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what – they're growing like crazy," Clinton said. "And the rich are getting richer, but they're pulling people out of poverty."

"There is a certain formula there that used to work for us, until we abandoned it, to our regret in my opinion," she added.

Rebuck, Weldon warn over future threat of piracy

Rebuck, Weldon warn over future threat of piracy
21.05.10 |

Gail Rebuck and Tom Weldon have warned over the "huge cost" publishers will be faced with if piracy is left untackled, but stressed that using "exclusive or proprietary formats" will have no impact, the Financial Times reports.

The chief executive of Random House and deputy chief executive of Penguin, were speaking at a breakfast meeting yesterday (20th May) to launch the FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

Rebuck warned illegal copying had been "engrained culturally", and highlighted her company's experience with the Dan Brown title The Lost Symbol, which bred more than 1,000 illegal websites by the end of its first week on the market.

She added that the industry could cope with copying at current levels of e-book usage, but once that reaches a more significant level, it would be “a huge cost for the publisher”.

Weldon added: “The only way to fight piracy is to publish digital content across as many formats as possible, through as many channels, at a fair price. If we go for exclusive or proprietary formats, we’re completely screwed.”

At the same event, investment banker Shriti Vadera, who according to the FT helped negotiate the UK government’s last anti-piracy deal with record companies and internet service providers, said the book industry was way ahead of the record companies, which “didn’t see [the piracy threat] because they weren’t listening to their consumer”.

Financial Times

Quotes

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law."~Robert A. Heilein, Life Line


"By virtue of exchange, one man's prosperity is beneficial to all others." ~ Frederic Bastiat


"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" — Isaac Asimov

The Lost Soul of Higher Education

Corporatization: the Assault on Academic Freedom
and the End of the American University
Friday 28 May 2010
by: Eleanor J. Bader, t r u t h o u t | Book Review

Ellen Schrecker, a history professor at New York City's Yeshiva University, starts "The Lost Soul of Higher Education" with a blunt assessment: "In reacting to the economic insecurities of the past forty years, the nation's colleges and universities have adopted corporate practices that degrade undergraduate instruction, marginalize faculty members, and threaten the very mission of the academy as an institution devoted to the common good."

It's depressing stuff. And sadly, there is a wealth of evidence to support Schrecker's assertion. She starts by introducing the concept of academic freedom - the notion that teachers should be able to present ideas, both popular and not, without fear of reprisal.

Sounds great. Yet, reality, Schrecker writes, is somewhat different, for while rhetoric in support of academic freedom is plentiful, neither pedagogical nor personal autonomy have ever had free rein on campus. Howard Zinn, for one, was fired from Spellman College 50 years ago for supporting sit-ins against then-rampant racial segregation. More recently, Professor Norman Finkelstein, a prominent critic of Israel, was denied tenure at DePaul University following a campaign led by Harvard Professor Alan M. Dershowitz. Similarly, Native-American studies Professor Ward Churchill lost his post at the University of Colorado after a campaign by right-wing ideologues slammed his scholarship as inauthentic. Other examples abound and Schrecker makes clear that "tenure cannot protect a controversial professor when an institution wants him out ... Contrary to common assumptions, tenure does not grant its holders guaranteed life time employment."

Never was this clearer than during Joe McCarthy's witch hunts. Schrecker zeros in on three University of Washington professors who were fired because of purported ties to the Communist Party. Two of them admitted membership; the third, Ralph Gundlach, did not. Gundlach's dismissal, Schrecker writes, was the first test of academic freedom in the early 1950s. "Other institutions soon followed and before the anti-communist furor abated in the mid 1950's, more than one hundred college teachers lost jobs or were denied tenure because of their politics."

Two things are particularly striking about the University of Washington's actions. The first is that in none of the cases was teaching an issue. "It was the off-campus political activities of these men and particularly, their insistence that the institution's investigations not only violated their academic freedom but also interfered with their First Amendment freedom of speech and association that cost them their jobs," Schrecker concludes. Secondly, the fact that their colleagues allowed these dismissals to happen, with nary a peep of protest, is shameful. At the same time, Schrecker reminds us that despite right-wing assertions, the academy is not now and has never been a bastion of left-wing sentiment. In fact, only a handful of faculty members have ever been militant activists. "In an influential 1969 Carnegie Foundation study of the professoriate, Everett Carll Ladd, Jr. and Seymour Martin Lipset found that only five percent of the more than 60,000 professors they surveyed were willing to identify themselves as radical," she writes. Forty-one years later, there is nothing to suggest that the number has increased.

Schrecker's sweeping historical overview also makes another important point: Unlike the politically reactionary 1950s, the 1960s gave rise to numerous social movements which led to unprecedented campus activism. These movements made it possible for at least some faculty members to voice political opinions and speak out about issues like the Vietnam War, racism and educational equity.

Call it the heyday of academic freedom, a time when a cadre of professors and graduate teaching assistants - prompted by student activists - took it upon themselves to push for the creation of ethnic and women's studies departments and classes in such fast-developing disciplines as queer theory. Furthermore, alongside student groups, they demanded expanded financial aid and open enrollment. Their goal, they argued, was to literally change the complexion of higher education.

Not surprisingly, a few years down the road, the backlash that led Richard Nixon into the White House hit academia and, almost overnight, nontraditional courses were under attack for promoting specious, "dumbed down," intellectual discourse.

A small number of university faculty members opted to unionize - or try - as a way of maintaining their toehold on power, but most did not. As a result, by the mid-1970s, campus activism was waning and men like Allan Bloom, Donald Kagan and James Reston found media outlets eager for their audience-grabbing rants about on-campus immorality and the left-wing indoctrination of unsuspecting kids. Conservative donors were overjoyed by this outpouring and rushed to create groups including The American Enterprise Institute, The National Association of Scholars [NAS], The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni [ACTA]. Schrecker calls this confluence a catalyst and writes that it "accelerated the rate at which neoconservative and market-oriented studies were produced and gave them far more visibility and influence than they night otherwise have received."

Suddenly, the term "political correctness" was part of everyday discourse and "white man as endangered species" went from punch line to cause for alarm. A host of right wingers grabbed prime-time slots on both the radio airwaves and TV news hours.

Flash forward three decades and a racist, anti-immigrant backlash is in full flower.

So, too, are attacks on the many academic programs that have brought black, brown and Asian students and faculty into campus life. ACTA's campaign against Ward Churchill, Schrecker writes, is but one example. His outspoken critique of US foreign policy following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 "gave Colorado's partisans of traditional higher education a perfect opportunity to take on an unpopular department," she continues. While Schrecker acknowledges that Churchill's scholarship was oft times faulty, she notes that numerous faculty members at other schools - people she characterizes as plagiarists and charlatans - were not fired, but were instead given short-term suspensions.

But another change was also brewing. On top of selective crackdowns on leftists, feminists, ethnic studies proponents and queer theorists that began in the 1970s, colleges across the country were simultaneously being hit with budget cuts. Thanks to state and city budget shortfalls, government investment in higher education was dwindling and schools - even those with huge endowments - were scrambling for funding. Despite hefty tuition hikes, trustees and administrators were wringing their hands at the calamities that would ensue if more money was not forthcoming. "As colleges and universities struggled to keep afloat, they looked to the business sector for financial solutions, often bringing in managers from private companies to handle their affairs," Schrecker writes.

The price, of course, has been steep. Some corporations, she reports, require grant recipients to stifle findings that might damage their bottom line. Others limit research to subjects that have potential remunerative value. Equally appalling, as full-time faculty seek outside finding to support their research - or in some cases to insure that they receive tenure - upwards of 70 percent of teaching has shifted to part-time contingent faculty who typically juggle multiple adjunct jobs to make ends meet.

On the losing end are students who often can't find their teachers to discuss ideas or get in-person clarification of what is expected for completion of the next assignment.

"The Lost Soul of Higher Education" posits no solutions for loosening the corporate hold on education or for ensuring that a wide cross section of students are given the means to enroll. Likewise, it does not suggest ways to restructure higher ed to ensure that good teaching is ranked above grant acquisition or publishing, or for getting faculty members to understand the importance of collective bargaining.

All told, it's a grim read. But don't be deterred. Schrecker shines a bright light - one that should not be ignored - on everything that is wrong with the academy. If history teaches us anything, it's that social movements have the power to force social change. As Frederick Douglass reminded us more than 100 years ago, "power concedes nothing without demand." The question is what to ask for first.

Feingold amendment requesting a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan voted down 18-80.

This morning, the Senate debated Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) amendment to the war supplemental bill, which called on President Obama to provide a flexible timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan to Congress. Arguing for the amendment on the floor, Feingold complained that he is “disppointed that” Congress is passing a bill “providing tens of billions of dollars to keep this war going with so little public debate about whether this approach makes any sense.” After Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) objected to the Feingold amendment, arguing that it sends the wrong message to the region, Feingold retorted, “The Senator suggests that somehow this sends the wrong message to the region. The real wrong message is that we intend to be there forever”:

FEINGOLD: In light of our deficit and domestic needs and in light of rising casualty rates in Afghanistan and in light of the growing Al Qaeda threat around the world, an expensive troop-intensive nation-building campaign just doesn’t add up for me. We should be focusing on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other terrorist safe havens. Frankly I am disappointed that we are about to pass a bill providing tens of billions of dollars to keep this war going with so little public debate about whether this approach makes any sense.

LEVIN: If we adopt the Feingold amendment, Mrs. Madame president, we’ll be sending a…message to the government and people of Afghanistan. It would reinforce the fear, if we adopt this amendment, already a deep seated fear in Afghanistan, that the United States will abandon the region. That is a message that we can ill afford to send regarding the future stability of Afghanistan, and it is a particularly unwise message to send while our forces are still deploying to Afghanistan.

FEINGOLD: The Senator suggests that somehow this sends the wrong message to the region. The real wrong message is that we intend to be there forever.




Following the debate, the Feingold amendment was voted down 18-80. See the roll call vote here. This past Tuesday, the Defense Department released troop numbers that reveal there are now more U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan than Iraq.

UPDATE On May 30th, the combined cost of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is expected to reach $1 trillion. Brave New Foundation has created a Facebook application that allows Americans to see what, other than war, $1 trillion can be spent on. Access it here.

Normal human problems are turned into medical conditions...

...Spiking healthcare costs
Published on 05-28-2010

Mainstream medicine has a huge new growth industry underway -- the "medicalization" of the human condition. That's the conclusion of a study headed by Brandeis University sociologist Peter Conrad that was just published in the journal Social Science and Medicine. The report, the first study of its kind, documents that over the last several decades, numerous common problems -- many of which are simply due to being human -- have been newly defined as medical disorders that supposedly need prescription drugs and other costly treatments.

For example, menopause is a perfectly natural part of womanhood but it is now considered a "condition" complete with symptoms that physicians often believe need treatment with hormones and anti-depressants. Likewise, normal pregnancies, taking longer-than-average time to get pregnant and impotence (now known by the medical term "erectile dysfunction") are all now seen as medical conditions that may need intense medical monitoring and treatment. And if a child fidgets in class -- bingo! He or she is frequently classified as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and quickly placed on stimulant drugs like Ritalin
.
Conrad and his colleagues used national data to estimate the costs of these and other common conditions -- including anxiety and behavioral disorders; worries over body image; male pattern baldness; normal sadness; being overweight; difficulty in sleeping through the night and substance-related disorders. In order to document what role medicalizing these problems could be playing in escalating U.S. healthcare spending, the Brandeis research team evaluated current data showing just how much medical spending results from the diagnosing and treatment of these "conditions".

Their findings? The researchers concluded there is a strong and undeniable trend toward a medicalization of human conditions, with a constantly increasing number of medical diagnoses and treatments for behavioral problems and what the researchers called "normal life events".

When they analyzed payments to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and other health care providers for medical treatments of these medicalized conditions, the researchers discovered that the costs accounted for $77.1 billion in medical spending in 2005. That amounts to almost 4 percent of the total U.S. healthcare expenditures.

"We spend more on these medicalized conditions than on cancer, heart disease, or public health," Conrad said in a statement to the press.

Conrad added that medicalization of human problems may have several causes, including increased consumer demands for medical solutions and Big Pharma's expanding markets for drugs. "By estimating the amount spent on medicalized human problems, we've raised the obvious question as to whether this spending is 'appropriate'. The next question is whether we can more directly evaluate the appropriateness of these medical interventions and consider policies that curb the growth or even shrink the amount of spending on some medicalized conditions," Conrad said in the press statement.

Is the U.S. Government Planning War to Quell the Tide of Economic Unrest?

Published on 05-28-2010
Gary D. Barnett

In my opinion and in a word: Yes!

Headlines:
“READY FOR WAR,” “U.S. Military told to get ready in Korea Standoff, Obama orders commanders to prepare ‘to deter future aggression.’” By Drudge and MSNBC
“U.S. Begins Massive Military Build Up Around Iran, Sending Up To 4 New Carrier Groups In Region” by Tyler Durden
“Clinton: Korea Must Face ‘Consequences’ For Sunken Warship”
Homeland Security, Northeast Intelligence Network: “The Syrian Missile Crisis: Threat of War Very Real”
“The Expanding U.S. War in Pakistan” by Jeremy Scahill
“Yemen, Latest War Front?” by CBS News

These are but a very few of the recent headlines about more U.S. war, but the Iranian and Korean situations are the most dangerous, and the threats against Iran I think the most real.

United States wars are virtually all wars of aggression, so it is quite evident that U.S. wars are “fought” for reasons other than self-defense. That means there are ulterior motives involved that are not related to moral behavior, but instead to nefarious intent. This is a disturbing revelation, and one little understood by the American masses. It is one however, that if more understood, could literally blow the lid off the notion that the purposeful buildup of the military–industrial complex is for the defense of this nation! This thought scares the life out of those in power who need to keep the populace scared to death at all times in order to propagate their crimes.

Our economy, as is the case for much of the rest of the world’s economies, is currently imploding. Since all major economies in the world are based on valueless, un-backed, and worthless money, this situation should have been evident to the mainstream long ago. Of course the failing economy is just one piece of the puzzle, but it is most definitely the most important piece. With a so-called vibrant economy over the past decade or so, even though it was based on lies and deceit, and was a complete sham, the general population was easy to control during these so-called “prosperous” times. With the real economy now being exposed for the fraud that it is, and the real risks becoming more evident, the once complacent citizen is now becoming angry. Because of this, the evil U.S. federal government must find a new method of fooling the masses into believing in “their” government and country. War is the obvious answer, as war solidifies the putrid and false nationalistic worship of the peasants more than any other ploy.

In my opinion, any bad economic news, any exposure of the current economic fraud, any sovereign government risk of collapse, any higher unemployment or excessive price inflation, will anger the majority and vastly escalate the government’s need to start another war. It cannot afford to let the situation get out of hand, as there are many more of us than there are of them, so whatever becomes necessary in the mind of government in order for it to effect its manipulation and control over the people will be implemented. If that is a purposely orchestrated and unnecessary war, then so be it.

The openness of these plans and the blatant steps being taken by the federal government to protect its power are disturbing to say the least. Even with this openness however, most are still in the dark. Since 2001, our civil rights have been for the most part destroyed. Laws have been enacted that allow the government to capture and hold indefinitely any citizen it deems a risk, and without the possibility of charge or trial. Legislation to open and construct holding camps [see here] has been proposed and plans to implement this process are being prepared for today. Martial Law is now not just a possibility but a probability. This government in my opinion is at the same time preparing for both Martial Law and war to quell the tide of possible civil unrest due to economic instability or collapse. This is astounding, as both ends of the spectrum are being covered by Leviathan’s planned course of action. This should frighten all of us!

This time around the false flag event(s) leading to another war should immediately be scrutinized and brought to light, and those who expose the forthcoming government and neo-con lies should not be considered conspiracy nuts, but rather truth-tellers and heroes. I am warning you in advance, as so many others have done before me, that the next war will be pre-planned and calculated. The federal government’s actions are no longer hidden, and the motive for its criminal and murderous behavior is there for all to see. Obviously, those who now rule over us are confused and dazed, but they are nonetheless prepared to do what is necessary to keep their position of power intact. This government will not consider the means, but only the ends, so that justification will then become more palatable to those so easy to fool.

The dangers of this situation are tremendous. A war with Iran will upset not only the entire Middle East, but the whole world. The terrorism risk due to blowback will increase dramatically; this in and of itself helping the guilty government to perpetuate the crime, all the while gaining even more power and authority over us. Not only will many more innocents abroad be murdered, but many more Americans will also have to die as fodder for the cause of the elite.

These situations are not accidental but designed, and they are designed so that the few can survive in luxury, while the rest of us suffer. When will the common man come to the realization that government in a now totalitarian society like ours is not of the people, by the people, and for the people, but that people are of the government, by the government, and for the government? Only when all individuals are sovereign and free, and in total control of the State will this paradigm shift back to its original design.

More Cities on Brink of Bankruptcy

Posted By: Kate Kelly | CNBC Reporter
26 May 2010 | 11:01 AM ET

The possibility of a bankruptcy filing by the city of Harrisburg, Pa., the state capital, looms large these days—and it could be the first in a series, say some Wall Street traders.

Harrisburg, population 55,000, owes nearly $70 million in debt payments this year, and it's unclear where that money will come from.

Harrisburg now has one of the lowest credit ratings of any municipality in the United States.

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson told CNBC Wednesday that she had assembled a group of bond stakeholders, the city council and other interested parties to work out the crisis "so that we don't become the poster child of the world in terms of bankruptcy."

Municipal bond underwriters are monitoring Harrisburg, which has struggled to contain the costs of financing a troubled incinerator project.

In 2003, the city borrowed $125 million to expand and retrofit its incinerator, which officials thought would make money for Harrisburg. The incinerator re-opened five years later, but it's turned out to be nothing but a money drain.

On May 1, the city missed a $452,282 loan payment related to the incinerator.

Raising taxes or selling assets, like real estate or parking lots, are options for Harrisburg. So is a restructuring plan—either inside or outside of bankruptcy.

If Harrisburg does file for bankruptcy, it would do so under Chapter 9—which is employed by cities, but rarely. In one closely watched case, the city of Vallejo, Calif., has been in Chapter 9 since 2008.

About the Harrisburg situation, Jim Lebenthal, head of public affairs for the longtime municipal-bond underwriter, Lebenthal & Co., said that while filing for Chapter 9 would be a small matter in the scheme of things, it's "emblematic" of the larger economic struggles that cities face right now. "If it can happen in a state capital, my God, it can happen anywhere," said Lebenthal.

The overall problem is that the $2.8 trillion muni bond market, long considered one of the safest havens for investors, now faces a daunting level of debt, as cities from Los Angeles to New York struggle with an array of headaches, including less tax revenue and high labor costs.

According to remarks made by Harrisburg mayor Thompson in April, the city spends rought 70 percent of its annual budget on labor.

Cities can always raise taxes to fight a budget shortfall. But costly projects, fewer people in the workforce and more demand for city services can make budgets tough to square these days.

Financial firms underwrite bond offerings for cities and public-works projects, and the default rate on muni bonds has historically been quite low—less than 1 percent—compared to nearly 13 percent for corporate bonds, according to ratings agency figures.

In that sense, the Street encourages investors to go long municipalities.

But investors and the Street can also short munis through credit default swaps, or CDS policies that pay out if an entity defaults.

The Markit MCDX, an index that tracks the cost of insuring against default of a basket of 50 municipalities, is on a recent high of $173,000 for $10 million of protection on a five-year bond—a point last reached near the beginning of this year. A swap that would pay out if the state of Pennsylvania defaults cost $112,000 for the same $10 million amount.

House approves bill extending jobless benefits

By ANDREW TAYLOR
The Associated Press
Fri., May 28, 2010

WASHINGTON - The House has adopted a measure renewing unemployment benefits for people who have been without a job for at least six months.

The jobless benefits are in a legislative grab bag blending numerous spending measures with a renewal of tax breaks as well as tax increases to help pay for it all.

Pressure from moderate Blue Dog Democrats unhappy over record budget deficits forced Democratic leaders to drop tens of billions of dollars of spending from the measure. It was adopted on a 215-204 vote.

The Senate won't act on the bill before adjourning for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, leaving thousands of people without unemployment aid once their six months of state-paid benefits expire.

La. scientist locates another vast oil plume in the gulf

I've eard as many as 3 plumes of oil.

~~~~

By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010; 4:37 PM

A day after scientists reported finding a huge "plume" of oil extending miles east of the leaking BP well, on Friday a Louisiana scientist said his crew had located another vast plume of oily globs, miles in the opposite direction.

James H. Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University, said his crew on Wednesday found a plume of oil in a section of the gulf 75 miles northwest of the source of the leak.

Cowan said that his crew sent a remotely controlled submarine into the water, and found it full of oily globules, from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a golf ball. Unlike the plume found east of the leak -- in which the oil was so dissolved that contaminated water appeared clear -- Cowan said the oil at this site was so thick that it covered the lights on the submarine.

"It almost looks like big wet snowflakes, but they're brown and black and oily," Cowan said. The submarine returned to the surface entirely black, he said.

Cowan said that the submarine traveled about 400 feet down, close to the sea floor, and found oil all the way down. Trying to find the edges of the plume, he said the submarine traveled miles from side to side.

"We really never found either end of it," he said. He said he did not know how wide the plume actually was, or how far it stretched away to the west. He said the plume was found in an area that had already been closed to fishing by the federal government.

Cowan's finding underscores concerns about oil moving under the surface, perhaps because of dispersant chemicals that have broken it up into smaller globules. BP officials have played down the possibility of undersea oil plumes.

This discovery seems to confirm the fears of some scientists that -- because of the depth of the leak and the heavy use of chemical "dispersants" -- this spill was behaving differently than others. Instead of floating on top of the water, it may be moving beneath it.

That would be troubling because it could mean the oil would slip past coastal defenses such as "containment booms" designed to stop it on the surface. Already, scientists and officials in Louisiana have reported finding thick oil washing ashore despite the presence of floating booms.

It would also be a problem for hidden ecosystems deep under the gulf. There, scientists say, the oil could be absorbed by tiny animals and enter a food chain that builds to large, beloved sport-fish like red snapper. It might also glom on to deep-water coral formations, and cover the small animals that make up each piece of coral.

"You're almost like a deer in the headlights when you're watching this. You don't know what to say," Cowan said. He said the oil's threat to undersea ecosystems "is really starting to scare us."

In the discovery described Thursday, scientists aboard a University of South Florida research vessel found an area of dissolved oil east of the leak that is about six miles wide, and extends from the surface down to a depth of about 3,200 feet, said Professor David Hollander.

Hollander said that he believed the plume might have stretched more than 20 miles from the site of a leak on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank April 22. It has not yet reached Florida.

The plume is clear, with the oil entirely dissolved.

"Here is a situation where, unless you're looking at the chemical fingerprints, [the oil] is absolutely not visible," Hollander said. "It's not some Italian vinaigrette or anything like that. It's absolutely, perfectly clear."

But, Hollander said, even this clear-looking water could contain enough oil to be toxic to small animals at the base of the gulf food chain. He said he was also worried that the oil contains traces of "dispersants," soaplike chemicals sprayed into the oil to break it up.

"You don't want to put soap into a fish tank," Hollander said.

The University of South Florida vessel, the Weatherbird II, used sonar and other devices to sample the water below it. Other scientists have said they have little of the equipment necessary to find oil under the water, leading to debates about whether the underwater plumes were even there.

This week, Mike Utsler, who helps oversee the spill response off the entire Louisiana coast as BP Houma incident commander, said he's focused only on taking oil off the surface. "We don't know there's oil underwater," he said.

William Hogarth, dean of the USF College of Marine Science, said university researchers have sent samples to federal officials for analysis, but it's clear the oil is new because Stanford scientists had sampled the same area a year ago and found no evidence of oil. The Weatherbird II will conduct another tour next week, he said, with different researchers aboard.

"This is not natural seep," he said, adding that scientists will have to study the region for several years in order to properly gauge its impact. "We're talking about probably a three-to-five-year monitoring program to see what happens to food chain."